So, I’m back from my holiday in Sweden (and briefly in Denmark, too).
I’ve been studying Swedish fairly intensively since January, and more sporadically last year, so for around eighteen months.
I’ve certainly done hundreds of hours in total, a mix of self-study and online conversation lessons.
Looking at the CEFR level descriptors (find them here, about half-way down the page), the text that best matches where I’ve got to is:
Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
The above is the descriptor for B1 (intermediate). Probably I’d put myself somewhere within that band, though perhaps lower rather than higher. Call it a ‘just’ B1 rather than a ‘consolidated’ B1.
So sure, I can understand the MAIN POINTS if it’s CLEAR and on a FAMILIAR TOPIC.
And yes, I can produce SIMPLE, connected text and BRIEFLY give explanations for my opions and plans.
But that’s about it. There’s still some way to go!
If YOU want to self-evaluate your level, one easy way is to focus on the ‘not’.
I read the B2 band descriptor (the next one up) and I can see that I’m ‘not’ there yet, not by a long way. The text mostly describes things I can’t (yet) do.
But the A2 band descriptor (one level down) is ‘not’ me either. I was able to do that stuff, with aplomb, months back!
Hence, by a process of elimination, B1, in the sense of ‘not’ A2 and ‘not’ B2.
Having someone to compare yourself to also helps with the self-evaluation.
B1, for example, is the average English level of an Italian high-school graduate, and the minimum level of English required to graduate from Bologna university.
I’ve met plenty of Italian high school graduates with their poor to average English, and just as many college graduates with weak language skills, who’ve scraped through the B1 exam by the skin of their teeth.
So to self-evaluate your level, use the CEFR descriptors and, to be sure, compare yourself to people you know (are you, for example, the best student in your A1 class? Perhaps that means you’re an A2?)
One final tip is to ignore your teacher’s opinion.
I work in an Italian school with half a dozen full-time, permanent teaching staff. I’d trust THEM to evaluate a student’s level, in part because I’ve trained them to do it, and because they do it frequently, and work in team, meaning that differences of opinion can be thrashed out.
But language teachers in general are very prone to obsess about grammar (you get this a lot with level tests, too.)
You’ll hear them say, oh but you made a mistake with tense X, so you can’t be level Y, you must be level X.
It’s patent nonsense. Level evaluations are only partly related to grammatical accuracy. I still make plenty of mistakes with Italian grammar, but could easily pass the skills (reading, listening, writing, speaking) section of a top-level exam.
Where was I?
I’m B1 in Swedish, then, though not all my teachers would understand the level system used, or agree if they did.
It’s more than I was expecting to achieve when I started but, actually, it’s not very impressive.
B1 is far less than you’d need to get a job in an office, and not nearly impressive enough to add to your resume/curriculm vitae.
B2 would be better, but that’s a year or two away at my current pace.
C1 would be good-enough to study at a Swedish university, in Swedish, but what would be the point of that at my age?
And C2 means near-native-speaker-like competence.
Dream on, Daniel, life is short and you have other priorities.
Many of you will recognise this moment.
You’re no longer a beginner, you’ve learnt a lot.
But it’s been hard work and time-consuming, and there’s still a long way to go.
It’s become apparent that the more you learn, the more it seems there is to learn!
Nebulous goals such as ‘fluency’ recede as you approach them, like Alice’s white rabbit, shooting off down a hole out of reach.
As language-learners, we are well-advised to stop every now and then and take stock.
We should ask ourselves what we have achieved, and how we achieved it, and what options we have for the future.
It’s always useful to define, or redefine, our goals for future study, and to select appropriate study techniques and materials, which might be more appropriate that what we’ve used in the past.
That said, it’s not always obvious what to do next…
I have eleven hours of online lessons left, out of the pack of forty I paid for a couple of months ago.
So it’s an easy decision to continue with one or two lessons a week over the summer months, until they’re all used up.
And as it’s the summer, I should have time to continue to listen to the news in Swedish each day, and to try to read a little too (that’s still hard…)
So the provisional plan is this: to drop down a gear for a while, study less-intensively than before my holiday, but not stop completely.
The idea is to give myself some time for reflection before making a new plan, perhaps in September.
And in the meantime, I thought I might take another look at Turkish, a language that I used to speak well twenty-odd years ago but have now forgotten.
A Turkish teacher in my city sent her CV, looking for work, which might be enough to push me into taking action…
Who’s to say you can’t learn more than one language at a time?
Plenty of people do it, especially university/college students, who’ll often study two languages at once.
A change is as good as a rest, they say. Variety is the spice of life.
The important thing is to not let what you’ve learnt slip away, not to lose the habit of learning.
It doesn’t have to be full-on all the time, though.
It’s summer time, and the living is easy…
Which reminds me, next week is July, and the ‘Summer Sale!’
There’ll be a discount code to use in our online shop, valid both for online lessons and for ebooks.
Watch this space for more information on how to save £££ on your online learning!
Wendy Dowden says
Hi Daniel, I have only recently discovered you and the club and so agree with your approach and comments. I graduated from Bradford in French and German 40 odd years ago and have worked as a translator for many years, picking up Spanish and Dutch on the way. A couple of years ago I decided I would learn Italian, just for fun and as a way of meeting people. It has been fun and I have met some really nice people, but me being me I wanted to reach a high level and indeed have (I recently bought your excellent Italian Workout C1/C2). But your email about “what next” really strikes a chord. Most of the others in my group aren’t truly interested in learning, they just go along for the social side. I am way ahead and get very bored. There is rarely any homework and we don’t do the listening exercises because they are “too difficult” – grrrrrr! We used Nuevo Progetto Italiano 3 last year, level B2-C1 but everyone moaned it was too difficult, no one seems to understand that you need to be challenged and don’t need to understand every word immediately you hear it. Picking out the gist is, to my mind, a really important linguistic skill.
Not sure why I’m writing this, other than to sound off to someone who clearly understands! I will continue to follow your site/products with interest. Any chance of some much higher level listening, perhaps with the imperfections of authentic speech?
Hi Wendy, and welcome.
It sounds as if you’re an experienced and competent language learner. Be patient with those in your group who aren’t… And moaning about the listenings being too hard is routine – stick around here long enough and you’ll read comments from people who are studying B2 but can’t cope with A2-level audio.
About higher-level listening, with the imperfections of natural speech, at your level there’s really no excuse for not using authentic materials – radio, TV series, news broadcasts, podcasts, and so on. Many people are reluctant to try because it’s ‘hard’, but a couple of weeks of practice is all it takes to get used to listening to ‘real’ Italian. Once you’ve done it, you’ll never look back. Same with reading, too.
Hope that helps!
Wendy Wingham says
Thank you Daniel, I know you are right. I actually have the DVD set of series 1 of “È arrivata la felicità”, on the recommendation of an Italian friend I speak to on Skype. I find I need the subtitles because it is so entertaining that I want to watch it for itself, not as a language learning tool but I will watch it again without the subtitles once I know what happens!
Caroline Kalsheker says
I am also in a class where most people’s aims are different to mine. One thing I do which has helped me is to supplement with courses for Italians in Italian. Federica 11 university has a number of these as does EdX if you click under the different languages tab on courses in Italian. ( it will also come up with courses on learning italian but I think you need the courses that are presented in Italian. Caroline.
Good idea, Caroline. Courses FOR Italians, and therefore IN Italian. A great way to get written and audio content, and maybe also interact directly with Italians or Italian-speakers. I did an MBA in Italian (it was cheap…) and learnt masses about the language, if not much about getting rich and successful…
Wendy Dowden says
Thank you Caroline, I will look at these.
Incidentally, I have also made a couple of good Skype friends in Italy via mylanguageexchange.com. You get approaches from all sorts, but a bit of common sense and it is fine.
Leslie Gut says
Thanks for this very honest assessment, Daniel. You’re absolutely right – it’s so difficult to assess exactly where you are in the learning process. You know you know more than you did a year before, but (as the saying goes) the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. (Don’t ask me where in that last sentence one would use conoscere versus sapere because if I knew that, I’d be 2 notches up on the CEFR!) I’m not sure I could support a summer break, or even a reduction in the number of lessons per week. I’ve had to miss a few classes for travel and other miscellaneous reasons, and then feel as if I’ve been set back months, not just days. And two languages simultaneously???? Impossibile! I had achieved a solid A2 in German a few years ago and the other day in the park someone asked me (in German – we live in Zurich) how old my dog was. I absolutely blanked out! I answered in Italianglish and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember how to even count in German. There’s obviously only enough room for one foreign language in this old brain! But, do let us know how your new summer program works. Everyone searches for the perfect way to kick-start progress so – who knows? Maybe a break would be helpful.
In any case, welcome home! We enjoyed your posts, as always.
You ‘sapere’ a fact, but ‘consocere’ a person i.e.
“Do you know John? Do you know John is married to Sue? Do you know Sue?”
would be ‘conosci’, ‘sai’, ‘conosci’
(I nearly got it wrong myself, it IS confusing…)
Bear in mind, I’m not an Italian teacher…
The ‘blanking out’ is normal. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten, only that you can’t access what you know right now.
Practice makes it easier to use different languages. I have no problem switching between English and Italian (as an interpreter wouldn’t)
And after eighteen months, changing from Italian to Swedish and back is now routine too.
But if I try with Turkish, Swedish comes out!
I’m hoping a few lessons will fix that.
Leslie Gut says
My mother used to say I always wanted to have the last word. So, in her memory . . . Actually, I was just kidding about not knowing the difference between sapere and conoscere. However, what I’ve been taught is 1) sapere is used either with an infinitive (e.g., So sciare) or with a phrase (such as “Sai quando Maria è arrivata?). Alternatively, conoscere is always followed by a direct object (which isn’t always a person) as in °Conosci la risposta?”. If I’m wrong, do let me know. Even if I am, the point I was making with my tongue in cheek remark about which form to use isn’t so much in the written form when I have time to think through the options, but when I’m speaking. I still have to stop and think which is correct. I have the same moments of indecisiveness when it comes to using either passato prossimo or imperfetto. It takes a lot of work to get so the choices are no longer conscious ones.
Which leads me to Wendy’s comment, below about finding higher level conversation to tap into. She might take a look at yabla.com. It requires payment, but has a load of videos at all different levels and of various types – I find some of them quite entertaining and for those of us still down in the “A” levels, there are optional subtitles in both English and Italian. (Conosci il suono “Voleva un gatto nero” ?) There’s also a good Radio Italia app (free, even). One finds news and interviews and call-ins and just general chatter, if you’re wanting to immerse in regularly, spoken daily language. Hope this is some help to others.
Grazie e a presto!
Wendy Wingham says
Thank you Leslie. I will have another look at Yabla.
Caroline Kalsheker says
Hi Daniel. Thank you for another interesting email. I am certainly locked in the ‘how fluent is fluent’ hole. I can chat for hours on many subjects to a clear italian speaker but in the small town up the road where the people speak a mixture of heavily accented italian and Sicilian, I struggle. (Although I am now trying to learn sicilian too. ). I suspect it will be a lifetimes journey.
On the subject of teacher assessments I have a little story of my own. Many years ago I lived on Spain for a year. I came back able to get by and have basic conversations in Spanish, often helping out my ‘linguist’ friends. When I went back to the uk I started to attend Spanish classes and started at the level above beginners. Even though I was the only person in the class who could have a conversation in Spanish, the teacher told me I wasn’t good enough to be in the class and I needed to drop down to beginners. I’m also dyslexic and a poor speller so she viewed that lack of skill as being poor at the language. I dropped out of the class and didn’t return to Spanish sadly. I think it’s always important to judge the judgers. Something that comes with time but not easy to do when you’re just starting out.
Abril Garcia says
Hi Daniel, this is Abril Garcia. I’ve tried to learn Italian somehow online or with books or what not. I still do need help and exercises so I can improve my writing and if you have Ebooks in Italian, that would be helpful as well….do you have them for free or I have to pay?
There is masses of free material on the club website, all free. Thousands of pages. Most people use only that.
However, if you want ebooks, they are for sale in the shop. Two them are free ( at A1 level).
There’s a free sample chapter for just above everything. Check the catalogue page, which has links to all the free sample chapters.